ACLU Calls for Public Hearings on Tampa's "Snooper Bowl" Video Surveillance

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
February 1, 2001 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Florida
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Thursday, February 1, 2001

MIAMI–In a letter sent to Tampa city officials today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida questioned the police department’s use of intrusive surveillance technology at last Sunday’s Super Bowl and called for public hearings on the use of security systems that may jeopardize the public’s privacy rights.

“While everyone has a reduced expectation of privacy while in public, including sitting in the stands with one’s family at a Sunday afternoon football game, we do not believe that the public understands or accepts that they will be subjected to a computerized police line-up,” the ACLU said in a letter signed by Florida Executive Director Howard L. Simon and Michael E. Pheneger of the ACLU’s Greater Tampa Chapter.

The public records request, addressed to Mayor Dick A. Greco and City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, urged the city to turn over documents detailing how the video images captured by Tampa police at Sunday’s Super Bowl will be used, stored and disposed of, and exactly which police databases were cross-matched with the digitized faces of thousands of unsuspecting sports fans and residents across town.

In the letter, the ACLU also asks the Tampa City Council to schedule public meetings to discuss the complicated surveillance practice, and to hear from citizens who may be concerned about possible Fourth Amendment violations.

The letter encouraged government officials to “exercise some control over the rapidly developing use of sophisticated face-identification systems before we become a society under constant surveillance.”

While similar surveillance systems are used at convenience stores, shopping malls and schools across the country, citizens are generally informed that the area is under surveillance and of the camera’s whereabouts, unlike the thousands of sports fans who entered Raymond James Stadium for the big game.

As they entered at turnstiles, fans had no clue their faces were being silently digitized and matched up against the mug shots of criminals and terrorists, or that they could be questioned or detained by officers.

The full text of the letter appears below.


February 1, 2001

Mayor Dick A. Greco
City Of Tampa
306 East Jackson St
Tampa, FL 33602

Commissioner Charlie Miranda
Chairman, Tampa City Council
315 East Kennedy Blvd
Tampa, FL 33602

Dear Mayor Greco and Commissioner Miranda:

We write with regard to reports that the Tampa Police Department, employed a recently developed surveillance system to take pictures of all those entering Raymond James Stadium for Sunday’s Super Bowl. The ACLU believes this activity raises serious concerns about the Fourth Amendment right of all citizens to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.

Aside from the constitutional issues raised by the developing use of surveillance technology, we believe the public should be given an opportunity to ask — and have answered — the many questions raised by this practice. Policy makers must exercise control over the rapidly developing use of sophisticated surveillance systems before we become a society under constant surveillance.

We are therefore writing both to request that the Tampa City Council schedule public hearings on this matter and to request under Fla. Stat. Chapter 119 all documents regarding the collection, use and disposal of the images of Super Bowl patrons, the databases against which those images were checked, and the law enforcement agencies involved, including all memorandums, notes of meetings, reports, product evaluations, etc., pertaining to the City Council’s review and approval of the video surveillance system.

Reports indicate that the Tampa police digitized the facial images and checked them electronically with databases maintained by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Among the many things that are not clear about this program is whether the images were checked against those who have a record of a criminal conviction or databases that include records of those law enforcement agencies regard as criminal suspects. Reports of the use of this surveillance technology also indicate that the same technology has recently been installed for use in the Ybor City section of Tampa.

We fully understand that while everyone has a reduced expectation of privacy while in public, including sitting in the stands with one’s family at a Sunday afternoon football game, we do not believe that the public understands or accepts that they will be subjected to a computerized police lineup as a condition of admission.

There are numerous questions for the City Council to answer — and to inquire of the Police Department. For example, was the use of the digitalized-image surveillance system authorized for Sunday’s Super Bowl game? Who authorized it? What database were the captured images checked against — known felons, police suspects? What reports, if any, did the City Commission or Police Department review that evaluated the effectiveness of this surveillance system? Why did the City fail to notify patrons of Raymond James Stadium that the surveillance system would be in operation? What action was contemplated if the surveillance system produced a “hit”? That is, would suspects be ejected from the stadium, would they be followed or would they be arrested, and if arrested, on what basis?

Newspaper accounts of the Tampa Police Department’s use of the surveillance system to capture the picture of every person entering the stadium suggests that the Department later disposed of the images. This raises additional questions regarding the Department’s practice of video surveillance. For example, are the captured images public records under Florida’s expansive public records act? If so, was the disposal of those records in accordance with State law? In other words, is the Tampa Police Department compelled to retain the images of some 100,000 individuals who committed no criminal act and make those images available for public inspection?

The people of the Tampa community, and indeed anyone who attended the Super Bowl or recently visited Ybor City deserve answers to these questions. We suspect that the members of the City Council want answers to these questions as well.

We thank you for your attention to these important matters.


Howard L. Simon
Executive Director
ACLU of Florida

Michael E. Pheneger
Executive Board
GreaterTampa Chapter

cc: Bennie R. Holder, Chief of Police, Tampa Police Department
Henry Saavedra, Executive Director, Tampa Sports Authority

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